Recap of Mar. 19 Edition

The following is a transcription of the March 19, 2005 edition of "FOX News Watch," that has been edited for clarity:

ERIC BURNS, HOST: (voice-over): This week on "FOX News Watch," are the media responsible for Kerry's defeat? Did they try to bring about a Bush defeat? We have new information, new charges.

And Owens and Sheridan get exonerated; Ashley Smith gets famous; Mr. McGwire goes to Washington and "FOX News Watch" goes to the movies after we go to two minutes of headlines.


BURNS: And now, to kick off our 2005 coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign, here are Jim Pinkerton of "Newsday"; syndicated columnist Cal Thomas; Jane Hall of the American University; and media writer Neal Gabler.

I'm Eric Burns. FOX News Watch is coming right up.

Point no. 1: It has just been reported that John Kerry said this... the mainstream media treated him fairly in the 2004 campaign, but there is a media subculture that did not treat him fairly and hurt his chances to defeat Bush.

Point no. 2: It has just been reported that the Project for Excellence in Journalism said this: "Bush got three times as much negative coverage in the 2004 campaign as did Kerry."

Check me on this, Jane. Those two points don't seem to go together.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't think they go together. I think the Kerry thing was fascinating because he used the phrase "sub-media," which I think probably reveals an inner psychology there, "subhuman," "sub-basement"...

BURNS: And let me say that although he didn't define it, the speculation is he meant some Web sites and perhaps this network.

HALL: Yes. I mean, I've talked with people who were involved with the campaign who said that his campaign badly misjudged the impact of FOX and the Swift Boat story. And they waited — they basically did not respond until it was all over a lot of places, including the Internet. I think he has a legitimate beef about whether this was checked out, but he should have responded.

BURNS: What the — the Swift Boat story.

HALL: Whether the story was checked out. But he also talks about the corporatization of media and the lack of muckraking. He seemed to be taking a swipe at certain networks, there's no two ways about that.

CAL THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, I guess the message to come from this is, if just the big broadcast networks had existed and nobody else, their slant on what he believed would have been sufficient to put him in the White House. What does that say about the big broadcast networks? The second thing it says is, is he saying too much information is a bad thing? And the third thing it says is, golly, the public must be so stupid that it can't sort out fact from fiction.

I thought it was the wrong conclusion on all three points.

JIM PINKERTON, "NEWSDAY": I would add, sour grapes never sounded so sour. And if you're talking about "sub," how about a sub candidate in the case of John Kerry, proving there's a little bit of Richard Nixon in the Democrats to self pity, blame others, moody, snappy, whiny. Good riddance.

NEAL GABLER, MEDIA WRITER: It's funny how when Bush criticizes the press we never hear this. But I don't want to talk about the past. I only want to talk about the present— oh, wait, wrong story.


I think Kerry's analysis is faulty on two grounds. First of all, I think the mainstream media did a terrible job of informing the public. They were lazy, stupid, as I always say, and...

BURNS: So, in other words, you think it wasn't just a media subculture that did a bad job?

GABLER: Oh, no. Oh, no.

BURNS: It was the whole media?

GABLER: The whole media misinformed the American people. Many of the American people think that Saddam Hussein, you know, was behind 9/11. I mean, a large percentage. Now, how can you feel that if you're being informed by the media?

Second of all, I think Kerry's analysis of the so-called sub-media is wrong because he says that they are motivated by entertainment. I don't think they were motivated by entertainment. They were motivated by reelecting George Bush. And that's why you had the Swift Boats 24/7. They weren't entertaining us with that.

THOMAS: The sub-media were around during the Clinton years, as I recall, especially the second four years when he ran for re-election. FOX News was around, the bloggers were around, Internet was around. They were saying all kinds of terrible things about Bill Clinton, about Hillary Clinton, about Whitewater (search) and all this. He still got elected — reelected.

BURNS: There's something else that's surprising about all this, and we discussed it on the show a couple of times, was Evan Thomas (search), who's, what, the — he's the head man at "Newsweek," editor. Is that his title?

PINKERTON: Assistant editor.

BURNS: He said, Jim, and you'll recall that he thought there was such favoritism in the media for Kerry that it would get Kerry 15 points.

PINKERTON: Fifteen points. And you may recall, last week, when Neal said the media were pro-Bush, I said, "Gee, I hope we can revisit this." And then these Project for Excellence in Journalism folks came along to show that by a three to one margin the media were pro-Kerry.


GABLER: Jim, the methodology on this report, which I studied, is ridiculous. There's 17 variables; only one deals with tone. The agreement among coders is way off. This part of the study is way off.

PINKERTON: Can I just reclaim the floor here and just say...

GABLER: Yes, absolutely.

PINKERTON: ... the Project for Excellence in Journalism, anybody watching the show can look it up. You can Google it and see they're a mainstream blue chip group.

Neal may have his problems because he doesn't agree with what they came up with. But it's very transparent. Anybody can look and judge for themselves.

BURNS: It is...

GABLER: I don't agree with their methodology.

BURNS: Yes. It is fair to say that this is a group, though, that has not demonstrated in the past a bias one way or the other.

GABLER: Absolutely.

BURNS: It may be faulty methodology, but, Jane, no bias.

HALL: It is a nonpartisan group. And you can question, as I think Neal does, how they came to this conclusion. I always wonder, what do you count as favorable? What do you count as unfavorable?

BURNS: It's very subjective.

HALL: Or is it the incumbent that gets less favorable coverage?

I think a bigger issue is the whole media atmosphere. The biggest conclusion to me that they had out of this report is that the mainstream media have got to figure out what is their job, what do they do in this whole new panoply of choices that people have?

BURNS: Jim, quickly.

PINKERTON: What John Kerry calls the sub-media is what Cal was saying is really media diversity. And losers don't tend to like it very much.

GABLER: Can I have one last word? Journalism assertion is replacing journalism of facts. That's in the study.

BURNS: He asked me, and then he said it without waiting for an answer.

GABLER: It would have taken too long.

BURNS: Time for a break. We'll be back with this...

ANNOUNCER: Baseball makes its pitch to the House Government Reform Committee. FOX News Watch will cover the coverage when we come back after this.



MARK MCGWIRE, FORMER BASEBALL PLAYER: I applaud the work of the committee in exposing this problem so that the dangers are clearly understood.


BURNS: It is the dangers of steroids to which Mark McGwire refers. And the House committee to which he refers investigated the problem this week in nationally televised hearings which for a one day event, Neal, a House committee got an awful lot of coverage. Deserved or otherwise?

GABLER: Well, I think it deserved the coverage only because the media had been so lax in dealing with this issue. Congress got a lot of exposure in doing this for itself, but it also gave the media a back door to tackle an issue that they had not tackled. But let's face it, there's a tremendous amount of hypocrisy here.

The day after the hearings, every newspaper was slamming Mark McGwire. But when Mark McGwire was hitting homeruns in 1998, and had blown himself up to Paul Bunyan proportions, they blew up his image to Paul Bunyan proportions and they didn't say a thing.

THOMAS: More like the Incredible Hulk, I think. You're absolutely right.

We've talked about this in previous weeks about the turning the blind eye, the media eye, toward what was going on. Many reporters knew about this, but it was an unspoken alliance between the owners, between the players, and even the players union and the so-called commissioner of Major League Baseball, who is more like a tinhorn dictator. I mean, he has — he does the bidding of others.

And everybody knew about this but no one was going to say anything about it. You're right, it was a wonderful visibility forum for the Congress. Nothing is really going to get settled. And George Will (ph) wrote, and I think rightly, even though he's a member of the Baltimore Orioles, and may have known something too — what did he know — why is Congress involving itself in this? What is the big deal?

They're going to preserve the virtue of young boys who might take this stuff? Hey, they publicized it more than ever.

BURNS: Well, it gave them a chance to get off C-SPAN and get on to more popular things.

And Jim, is that fair? You know, whenever something like this happens, people like us — well, like you, I'm kind of above it, but — say, you know, this is just — that they just want exposure, it's just a show, it can be more sincere than that, can it not?

PINKERTON: Adam Smith in "The Invisible Hand" makes a point that non- virtuous people can do virtuous things through their own self-interest by making the market work. And in this case, all of these politicians are hams. I agree with both Cal and Neal that they were hypocrites for not doing this — and the media, too, for not doing it years ago.

However, to see those parents whose children had died or committed suicide because of steroids is to send a signal. I think Tom Davis, the congressman, said like there's a half a million, you know, high school athletes using steroids. If there's a value in media, just to step back from politics for a second, say, on issues like exercise, obesity, smoking, where Congress can actually play a role in saying, look, these are the problems we face folks — and that was not good legislation, I agree, that would be kind of a mess — let's just warn people and be reminded of this, I think that's terribly valuable.

BURNS: It seems to me, Jane, that's a very good point, because my reaction watching these hearings was this issue has never been so visible. And ultimately, who cares about the motives? If the baseball players came to plead false mea culpas — I don't know if they did — if Congress just wanted exposure, forget that.

Ultimately, Jane, this was a television show. This was a news event which made a serious issue more visible to an awful lot of people.

HALL: I agree with you. And I agree about the parents of the boys who apparently committed suicide in connection with depression with steroid use.

I have to say, when we talked about this early on, Jose Canseco's book, it seemed like yet another thing about overpaid, overfed, over- steroided athletes. But when you make the connection that they are role models and that the baseball industry has not done what they said they were going to do — these were legitimate hearings. I don't think these were ham hearings.

And one of the great ironies was it was very bipartisan, John McCain, Henry Waxman. And Henry Waxman said that he was inspired partially by Jose Canseco's book. Talk about your invisible hand.

BURNS: Well, it is an inspirational piece of literature.

THOMAS: Well, yes it is. Yes, but I don't see Chuck Schumer bulking up. He doesn't like he's been taking it.

But look, as long as you're dangling the million-dollar contracts and the — and all of the things that go with it before young men, primarily, although I would imagine there are some temptations for women athletes to do the same...

BURNS: Yes, but they're German.

THOMAS: Yes. Well, East German, the old East German, yes.

BURNS: I'm sorry.

THOMAS: But as long as you have these million-dollar contracts and the incredible fame through media exposure they give it's like, you know, Clinton and women. I mean, it's a temptation that's got to be hard to overcome.

PINKERTON: Since we're talking about over-steroids and overfed and over-muscled and so on, I can't resist the phrase over-P.R.'d. Mark McGwire saying, "I'm not here to talk about the past."

What are we supposed to be talking about, his golf game now? I mean, of course we're talking about the past. And it was an interesting moment when they didn't press him to tell the truth about what he had actually done.

GABLER: But the sports media had abdicated their responsibility when the owners and the players abdicated their responsibility. If somebody was accused of murder and there was a DNA test that could clear him, he would have taken that DNA test. And the media should have pressed the players to do that.

BURNS: I'm not going to read the letter criticizing me for the German crack. I'm just going to apologize now.


BURNS: It's time for another break. We'll be back with our "Quick Takes."

ANNOUNCER: The FCC makes up its mind about the dropped towel. And the media make up their mind about Ashley Smith.

"FOX News Watch" continues after this.


BURNS: It's time for our "Quick Takes" on the media.

Headline no. 1: "How Many Times Did They Have to Look at the Tape Before They Decided?"

The FCC ruled this week that the Terrell Owens, Nicolette Sheridan "Monday Night Football" promo is not indecent. The vote was unanimous. It only took the FCC four months to figure it out.

Jim, since you thought they shouldn't have been figuring in the first place, I assume you're pleased with the decision.

PINKERTON: I am. And I'm pleased that FOX got another opportunity to show that video for the sake of our ratings.


BURNS: You know, sometimes I think you don't understand television. And then suddenly you say things like that.

PINKERTON: There's a much more important thing going on, and that is that Senator Ted Stevens and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jay Rockefeller, Republicans and Democrats both, are moving toward pushing the FCC under its new chairman, Kevin Martin, toward regulating pay and cable...

BURNS: Cable, satellite, maybe even the Internet.

PINKERTON: Maybe even the Internet. This is that camel's nose under the tent. This is going to empower the FCC with hundreds and maybe thousands of bureaucrats watching and monitoring stuff. This is where "1984" comes a couple decades late.

BURNS: Well, the first question, Cal, is would legislation like this ever get through Congress to empower the FCC more than it is now empowered?

THOMAS: I would hope not. And I would hope that if it did the Supreme Court would declare it unconstitutional.

This is choice. You pay for it. You have to want it.

And I am very concerned about the government determining content for programs. Because one day, if they're coming after people who take off the towel, they're going to be coming after people like me for my ideology. I don't like it.

HALL: Take off the conservatism? I don't know, what would work there?

You know, let me play devil's advocate. I'm not advocating this, but I covered the whole V-chip controversy. And the broadcasters and cable signed on to this ultimately. There are serious (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the questions but it's not a level playing field if you're a broadcaster and you're being asked to do family values, and everybody else can do everything else. And that's I think a legitimate concern or a beef that they have.

BURNS: In other words, broadcast and cable should be...

HALL: I'm not advocating that. It's not a level playing field.

BURNS: ... on the same playing field?

GABLER: I don't think they should be because the broadcast networks are licensed, they're owned by the public. I agree with Cal and Jim. This is bipartisan demagoguery.

BURNS: "Quick Take" headline no. 2:

"Ashley Smith: Details at 6:00, 11:00 and all the Rest of the Time"

First she talks suspected murderer Brian Nichols into surrendering to authorities. Then the media made her the story. And we now know that Ashley Smith has a criminal record and that her husband died in her arms after a knife fight.

Is it inevitable that we would know this? Should we know it because it tells us something about how she was able to talk to Nichols? Or is this the media prying?

GABLER: No, I think this is part of the story. But, of course, the news media always has a way of taking character actors and turning them into stars. And with cable now, I mean, they accelerate the cycle. But part of the story and part of the appeal of the story is the fascination with the convention of a redeemed woman.

BURNS: And that's what the appeal, Cal, apparently was to Nichols, that she was someone who had lived a life that made her understand him somewhat.

THOMAS: Plus, she has the profile like the sponsors like: white, female and blond. And she is partially redeeming of an African-American male. This is going to show up as a made-for-TV on Life Time, We or Oxygen, or maybe all three.

HALL: You know something else that's very interesting is that she read from "The Purpose-Driven Life."


HALL: And I noted that "The New York Times" had I believe its religion reporter as a contributor on this story. People are, I think, in the mainstream media are getting more aware of the phenomenon of books like this.

PINKERTON: Look, this is a beautiful Christian story. Yet, from a media point of view, she held the media hostage by serving up flapjacks to the ratings.

HALL: Oh, I don't think you can impugn her motives.


PINKERTON: Hold on. I'm not impugning her motives. Absolutely not.

HALL: Holding up flapjacks?

PINKERTON: Hold on. I admire her completely, but I'm trying to answer it from a media point of view. The media obviously, as everybody says, just can't get enough of the story.

BURNS: But she seems to be — I mean, we don't know this for a fact, but I deduced from some of the things that she said that she seems to be regretting to some extent that the media can't get enough of the story. I mean, maybe when she starts getting her checks she'll change her mind. But maybe she thinks they're prying, Neal.

GABLER: But one of the very first things she did was go to the hair salon and dye the roots of her hair.

BURNS: Well, there you go. I guess that settles it. That settles it.

Final word, Jane.

HALL: What do you do if you do something heroic and 5,000 people want to talk to you about it? You would talk to people?


HALL: No, I think that's wrong.

BURNS: "Quick Take" noted.

"Quick Take" headline no. 3:

"I'm Mad as Hell, and I'm Not Going to Take This Anymore" (voice-over with voice of Peter Finch from "Network")

He [meaning the actor Peter Finch] was a little slow on the uptake... But "The Independent," a London newspaper, has chosen the 30 best movies about journalism of all time. Among them, "Network," "Citizen Kane," "All the Presidents Men," and "Broadcast News."

Jim, what about your own list, best movie about journalists ever made?

PINKERTON: I'd put "Citizen Kane" on my list. But if I could pick the movie yet to be made, I would urge viewers to go to and look up a movie called "Epic 2014." It's about the future of the media and where it's headed. It's — imagine it's a merger between Amazon and Google and they kill off the rest of the media. It's a scary, sobering, fascinating little snippet.

THOMAS: Jim lives in the future; some of us like to live in the past. I'm going for 1939, "His Girl Friday (search)," Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, the fastest talking movie ever made. It is hilarious. Although I must say that "Anchorman (search)" with Will Ferrell describes the media I'm familiar with in the 1970s, one of the funniest pictures I've ever seen.

HALL: "The Killing Fields (search)," Sidney Schanberg's story and Haing S. Ngor's story about Cambodia and the journalists' dilemma there, real life and death. Harrowing to watch, but a wonderful movie.

GABLER: I would say "Network" for its prescience, "Ace in the Hole (search)" by Billy Wilder for its accuracy. And one film that's not on this list which is "Five Star Final (search)," which shows that all the things we think of in the media go way, way back.

BURNS: We have to take one more break. When we come back it will be your turn.



BURNS: About Dan Rather's departure from the CBS News anchor desk, here's Mary from Honolulu. "Maybe Dan Rather asked the tough questions, especially to the two Bush presidents, but I will have to disagree that he asked the tough questions when he interviewed Saddam."

Clint from Mineola, New York, "If not kowtowing to people in authority is the same as being rude and disrespectful, then Mr. Rather fits the Bill."

And Ray, West Patterson, New Jersey, "Twenty-four years ago CBS had a choice of either Rather or Roger Mudd for Cronkite's replacement. I wanted Mudd. CBS chose Rather. Now, 24 years later, I have come to understand the brilliance of CBS' choice, for in selecting Rather they also got mud."

About press coverage of Clinton and Bush 41, we hear this about the bodily orifices of Scott from Sylvania, Ohio: "The media have treated Bush better than they treated Clinton? I have to tell you, Neal, when you made the above statement I discovered that when you choke on your coffee it actually can be ejected not only through your mouth, but also through your nose without killing you."

About the Nevada politician who's making $3,000 a month as a political consultant for a Las Vegas TV station, here's Shannon from Coos Bay, Oregon. "You speak of conflict of interest between business and government as if this were something new. Ha ha. These days it isn't a conflict but rather a partnership."

About Michael Jackson jokes on "The Tonight Show," here's Steven from West Palm Beach, Florida. Cal is right, what Michael Jackson is accused of isn't funny. Neither is the fact that parents allowed their children to be in that situation. But the jokes about Jackson are definitely funny."

"Jackson is a freak, not of nature, but of his own making. He deserves every barb that's thrown his way."

Finally, about something that just slipped out of my mouth last week, here's Ed from Meadows Place, Texas. "Eric is nearly as old as Cal? Wow. That's a pretty exclusive club. Cal was on Houston TV before there was TV."

What I meant to say, Ed, is that I am nearly old enough to be his nephew. I just misspoke. It's my fault.

Here's our address: Please write to us. When you do, tell us your full name and let us know where you live.

That's all the time we have left for this week. Thanks to Jane Hall, Jim Pinkerton, Uncle Cal and Neal Gabler.

And I'm Eric Burns, thanking you, most of all, for watching. We'll see you next week when News Watch will be back on the air.

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